Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sri Lankan Tamils

I strongly support Sri Lankan Tamils’ desire and aspiration to establish a separate Tamil state on that island. I believe that they have a right to ask for a political solution to address their political problems. I believe that Tamils constitute a distinct group with a different language and religion and also different historical roots compared to the majority which happens to be Sinhalese Buddhist speaking people.

India has a dubious record of participation in the ongoing political and military crisis in Sri Lanka. In reality, India has lost its credibility vis-à-vis Tamil issue in Sri Lanka. India doesn’t know where it stands because it has started to look at the world and issues through the prism of what’s going on in its backyard. Since India discourages all separatism within its borders without reason or debate, it would like to extend the same logic to every other issue on the planet.

India has changed its stance on Palestine issue because India started to identity itself closer to the nation (called Israel) that suppresses every voice and action that demands a new state (called Palestine). India has changed its stance on Sri Lankan Tamil Issue too. That’s because India has become obsessed with Kashmir. Its obsession is not very different from the obsession of Pakistan with Kashmir. However, these two enemies are only different in their extent of that obsession.

Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir runs much deeper than that of India’s. They do not apply reason or logic to any issue because they tend to look at the world only through that obsession. That obsession has made Pakistan resort to all kinds of tricks and carry out all kinds of shams, resulting in Talibanization of Afghanistan which is now about to engulf entire Pakistan. Obsession with Kashmir is turning out to be the toxic disease that will eat into Pakistan and consume it completely. The people on this subcontinent, both Indians and Pakistanis, fail to reason and see light only because of their obsession with Kashmir.

When it comes to Tamils of Sri Lanka, Indians are ready to denounce their fight for freedom as a terrorist movement. They are ready to dismiss their aspirations completely. They have gone ahead to support Sri Lankan government which has ruthlessly suppressed this movement using armed forces, blasting its way through Tamil stronghold thereby completely decimating all Tamil resistance. Sri Lankan Sinhalese glee over their success while Tamils have lost everything – their pride, their identity, and their political will to form a distinct entity on that island. Indians celebrate with their Sri Lankan Sinhalese counterparts because they fantasize such incursions into Kashmir, blasting their way to decimate and emasculate Kashmiri aspirations to form a separate nation.

LTTE is a terrorist organization to some while they are freedom fighters to others. Yes, LTTE has conducted innumerable crimes, resorted to killing innocents, used children as human shield, brainwashed kids to become suicide bombers, raped, pillaged, and murdered ordinary people thereby justifiably qualifying as a terrorist organization. I deplore the actions of LTTE. I condemn and reject their methods. It is a terrorist organization, no doubt.

However, what gets lost in the din is the voice of ordinary Tamils in Sri Lanka. What about him? What about his aspirations? What about his idea of freedom? Should he give up now because LTTE is a terrorist organization?

Can we ignore the history of how Tamils were targeted, discriminated, and marginalized in Sri Lanka? Does Sri Lanka have a prior record which suggests they are going welcome Tamils participation in that country? Can a Tamil become President of Sri Lanka the way a Sikh can become Prime Minister of India? In Sri Lanka only a Sinhalese Buddhist can become the President ensuring that a Tamil is never an equal in his own country though he is born there.

Lessons for and from India

Indians don’t know why they don’t have a Rashtra Basha. Some continue to delude themselves into thinking that India has a national language. They want to impose one identity or one religion.

India was born out of a compromise. It was realism that dictated how India would shape itself, not idealism. Every demand for utopia where only one religion, one language, one culture prevailed over all Indians was eventually struck down.

As I argued earlier, the only way India can stay united is by allowing people to maintain their distinct identities. With respect to languages, any imposition of one Indian language over the other will be met with utmost resistance and will lead to break up of this country. This was not ignored by our Indian politicians.

India had a long history of struggle with British spanning nearly ninety years. Indians learnt a lot during that time because they had a working Congress and a working Muslim League. They knew the vagaries of a pluralistic society much before India got its Independence. All those who thought one single identity would unite them all have eventually failed to realize their utopias. Pakistan which got formed on single identity called religion eventually broke up into two nations. Now, it is in tatters. There is a clear message – don’t try to unite a pluralistic country under one identity. Don’t impose one identity while blurring others.

Sri Lanka did not face an ongoing struggle for independence. It had no lessons to learn from. When they got independence, they used the ‘majority’ as a weapon to subdue the minorities. Unlike India, Sri Lanka did not learn that majority is not always right. Even Indians are slowly unlearning their lessons. Nowadays some Indians are conveniently using democracy to promote the will of majority to be imposed onto minorities.

Without any precedents to help them, Sri Lankans did not formulate a system that can safeguard the interests of minorities within their country. Sinhalese Buddhists formed political parties that came to power riding the wave of majority support and passed Sinhala Only Act thereby discriminating Tamils who could either speak Tamil or English. Within fifteen years, Tamils were all kicked out of administrative services to be replaced by Sinhalese. Starting from selecting a flag that was not acceptable to Tamils, then disenfranchising a huge Tamil population because they were of Indian origin, and then kicking out Tamils from capital city, then colonizing Tamil lands with Sinhalese, then suspending Tamil speaking officials from the administration, eventually changing the constitution by repealing an act that guaranteed protection to minorities and promoting Buddhism as state religion, Sri Lanka has ensured Tamils were emasculated, enervated, and completely extirpated from that island. Sri Lankans wanted to impose the might of majority onto minorities believing majority is right.

Some Indians are now using ‘majority’ slogan to wish for Hindi language as national language, wishing for Hinduism as the main ethos of Indian cultural and legal system, all in the name of unifying everyone under one banner. Sri Lanka is a good example of how such imposition of ‘majority’ identity can go really wrong.

Sinhalese rejected all demands for using Tamil as administrative language, not even in those areas where Tamils were in majority. They were bent on imposing their will onto everyone at the cost of everything, though there were many Tamils and Left Parties who suggested that both Sinhalese and Tamil should be given official status throughout the island. Colvin R de Silva, a Leftist who is credited with the famous response to ‘The Sun never sets on the British Empire’ slogan with ‘That’s because God does not trust the British in the dark’ has foreseen the future of this island nation when Sri Lanka passed Sinhala Only Act:

Do we want a single nation or do we want two nations? Do we want a single state or do we want two? Do we want one Ceylon or do we want two? And above all, do we want an independent Ceylon which must necessarily be united and single and single Ceylon, or two bleeding halves of Ceylon which can be gobbled up by every ravaging imperialist monster that may happen to range the Indian Ocean? These are issues that in fact we have been discussing under the form and appearance of language issue.

His foreboding came out to be true. Sri Lanka is ravaged by a civil war which has killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands, injured and mutilated many others.

Sinhalese in their blind obsession to wrest control from privileged Tamils who were adept at English, instead of making corrections like ‘reservations’ in India, resorted to completely banning Tamil and English from all institutions of Sri Lanka in order to deprive Tamils of employment and opportunity. Sri Lanka has conducted pogroms to target, maim and kill Tamils, vandalizing and destroying their properties, eliciting mass migrations. They were bent on completely decimating Tamils from that island.

The discrimination against Tamils started right from 1948 when they got independence. Sinhalese went around in gangs to target and kill Tamils, kicking them out of their homes, all with support from the government. Like in Gujarat of 2002, the administration of Sri Lanka decided not to intervene when the riots broke up and took its sweet time to stop them. When Tamils got concentrated in camps around the capital city they were eventually shipped to Jaffna. And in 1980s, Sri Lanka carried out programs similar to Israel where Sinhalese were given land and facilities to settle down in Tamil dominated regions.

Like in India where some Hindus target Muslims calling them traitors that have allegiance to an enemy nation, Sinhalese targeted Tamils for being closer to India. One of the Members of the Parliament said:

If there is discrimination in this land which is not their (Tamil) homeland, then why try to stay here. Why not go back home (India) where there would be no discrimination. There are your kovils and Gods. There you have your culture, education, universities etc. There you are masters of your own fate

What came as a freedom movement was a reaction to what Sinhalese did to Tamils. LTTE is a sad outcome of such reaction, equally bloody, equally suicidal.

This large scale civil war of the present day could have been averted had the Sinhalese majority party been rational enough to conclude that they could have two languages instead of one, if they had concluded that they could correct the under-representation of Sinhalese through affirmative action instead of barring Tamils from official positions, if they had concluded that their island nation can accommodate two cultures instead of one by pushing the other culture into wretched submission.

Tamils are marginalized as entire community from the mainstream of Sri Lankan society, vilified as traitors, only to be targeted in future for further discrimination and ostracism. Tamils in Sri Lanka has lost their pride, their voice, their self-respect and now have to live in ignominy.

Now that LTTE is defeated, its leader killed, its forces decimated, Sri Lanka has an immense responsibility. Hopefully, it has learnt its lessons. It should create an environment where Tamils regain their identity, their pride, and their culture. It should allow Tamil as an official language and ensure they are not discriminated against. They should create a federal structure whereby Tamils have their own state. They should set good examples by selecting and electing leaders to the top echelons of the government. Going forward, India should strive to work with Sri Lankan government to create a political platform for Tamils living in Sri Lanka.


  1. Congrats, you didn't mention Hindutva or Narendra Modi even once.

  2. That is informative and I appreciate your POV. I think people are confused as in this case there is no clear right and wrong. Both sides were equally inflexible. I think now, instead of celebrating with Srilanka, India should put some pressure on the Govt. there to ensure that minority rights are not snatched away again. As you say, a federal structure with a separate state should be established. And secondly, the way this issue has been used for political advantage in TN is also condemnable.

    Destination Infinity

  3. Excellent article! Haven't read something this moving on the Lankan Tamil issue for quite sometime. I agree India tends to tread carefully on such issues beccause of Kashmir.

    I don't have much hope on Lankans doing a proper job of rehabilitation of Tamils.... I think India needs to pitch in and help them.

  4. Very clear and incisive points. You have perfectly captured the real issues and the real problems. I only wish you had touched upon the economic gains that all these aid agencies will get because of this inhuman war.

    Thanks again for writing and keep up the good work.

  5. // Yes, LTTE has conducted innumerable crimes....//


    Can you prove this with one single incident from LTTE.


    What exactly u mean behind this words. Can u say some incident?

    I do accept with ur other allegations.

  6. I completely agree with your views but you have missed out on some points.

    Dont you think the Norwegian mediated settlement was a fair one? Wasnt it offering much more powers to tamils on a platter? By not accepting such a political settlement and thwarting it made the situation mightily worse for the tamils.

    Now, the story is over for tamils on that island, there are already stories of abductions and killings from the IDP camps. That community will perish due to the intransigent virulent sinhala Chauvinism.

    I liked the parallels you were drawing about the Indian situation and it is completely correct!

  7. well balanced article .

    we may have lost the battle ,but not war .. LTTE may be dead but the ideology is very much alive .

  8. Hi

    We have one more reason to blame india.kashmir got its own identity as a seperate state under federal structure(Tamils in srilanka=?)

    India does have national language,but it does not force it in non hindi speaking people like Sinhala or Russian or English in US.

    Kashmir is a multiculturel state under federal structure with muslims,budhists and hindus living there.Though most of the hindus are driven away from their villages let us hope some day they go back to their homes and live there.

    kasmiries has expressed thier belief in indian constitution by participating in elections several times.

  9. I felt that you have explained the problem very well and now, I have more clarity on what is going on there.

    Not just that, but the conclusion is good too as it gives a very good solution.

    I hope the summary that you have constructed from the facts is accurate and it represents what actually happened over there!

  10. hi i really liked your blog and though i did not agree with many of your comments i love the quote you say is your favorite, though as a rationalist i would have to disagree with the premise of that quote!!(as in the existence of a hell!!anyways i never have the time to write on my blog but would love to have a chat room where we could talk about common interests, it could be in the virtual or the real world...i am planning on entering politics once i attain the age limit specified !!would be nice to know if you are on facebook too.its a cool way to connect!!

  11. I agree with your conclusions. The Government has a responsibility to not discriminate the Tamils. It no longer has an excuse. They need to win back the trust.

    The Tamil diaspora needs to stop being so angry and prideful, We need to look at the immediate situation. People need food and water. We need use our considerable economic might to get that done. We no longer have to drain out money into the LTTE.

    point of disagreement: I haven't heard of a single case where the LTTE raped anyone. Their cadres maybe suicidal and fanatical, but they are also highly disciplined with things like that.

  12. Evidence showing the Sri Lankan military?s savage behaviour in the last
    days of its offensive against the Tamil Tigers is mounting.

    News is also emerging about the appalling conditions in the refugee
    camps that hundreds of thousands of Tamils are being herded into.

    The government tried very hard to keep all journalists and aid workers
    out of the war zone.

    But their lies about not bombing civilian areas were undermined by
    eyewitness reports from three government doctors at hospitals of
    relentless shelling in ?safe? zones.

    All three have now been arrested for speaking to the media.


    pratirodhh dot blogspot dot com

  13. First, thanks for writing up on this.

    Jan-2009: At UN Council, India voted in favor to inquire the Israel's Gaza strip killing of 900+ people.
    May-2009: At UN Council (Geneva), India voted against to inquire the Srilanka's killing of 20,000+ people (and worked to get more votes for Srilanka).

    India is not just a spectator, an active participant in Srilanka war along with China and Pakistan.

    As a Tamil Indian, My heart used to beat from Kargil to Bombay attack...sorry, it don't anymore - it's true reality for lot of Tamils.

    India very strongly deceived Tamil Indians, sad but true.

  14. Hi,

    I am writing an article for Huffington Post on Srilanka's Humanitarian crisis.I have few questions.Can you please email me at Thanks


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